Alfred Edersheim. Edited by J E Bradburn. (St. Matthew i. 25; St. Luke ii. 1-20.)

Matthew 1:25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called His name Jesus. 


Luke 2:1--20

 01 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

02 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

03 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

04 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

05 To be taxed with Mary[Mariam} his espoused wife, being great with child.

06 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

07 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

08 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night

09 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

11 “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

12 “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger”.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary Mariam, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary Mariam kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.


SUCH then was ‘the hope of the promise made of God unto the fathers,for which the twelve tribes, ‘instantly serving (God) night and day,’ longed with such vividness, that they read it in almost every event and promise; with such earnestness, that it ever was the burden of their prayers; with such intensity, that many and long centuries of disappointment have not quenched it. It’s light, comparatively dim in days of sunshine and calm, seemed to burn brightest in the dark and lonely nights of suffering, as if each gust that swept over Israel only kindled it into fresh flame.

To the question, whether this hope has ever been realised - or rather, whether One has appeared Whose claims to the Messiahship have stood the test of investigation and of time - impartial history can make only one answer. It points to Bethlehem and to Nazareth. If the claims of Jesus have been rejected by the Jewish Nation, He has at least, undoubtedly, fulfilled one part of the Mission prophetically assigned to the Messiah. Whether or not He be the Lion of the tribe of Judah, to Him, assuredly, has been the gathering of the nations, and the isles have waited for His law. Passing the narrow bounds of obscure Judæa, and breaking down the walls of national prejudice and isolation, He has made the sublimer teaching of the Old Testament the common possession of the world, and founded a great Brotherhood, of which the God of Israel is the Father .   He alone also has exhibited a life, in which absolutely no fault could be found; and promulgated a teaching, to which absolutely no exception can be taken.

Admittedly, He was the One perfect Man - the ideal of humanity, His doctrine the one absolute teaching. The world has known none other, none equal. And the world has owned it, if not by the testimony of words, yet by the evidence of facts. Springing from such a people; born, living, and dying in circumstances, and using means, the most unlikely of such results - the Man of Nazareth has, by universal consent, been the mightiest Factor in our world’s history: alike politically, socially, intellectually, and morally.


·        If He be not the Messiah, He has at least thus far done the Messiah’s work.

·        If He be not the Messiah, there has at least been none other, before or after Him.

·        If He be not the Messiah, the world has not, and never can have, a Messiah.


To Bethlehem as the birthplace of Messiah, not only Old Testament prediction, 932 but the testimony of Rabbinic teaching, unhesitatingly pointed. Yet nothing could be imagined more directly contrary to Jewish thoughts and feelings - and hence nothing less likely to suggest itself to Jewish invention 933 - than the circumstances which, according to the Gospel-narrative, brought about the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem. A counting of the people, of Census; and that Census taken at the bidding of a heathen Emperor, and executed by one so universally hated as Herod, would represent the ne plus ultra (the ultimate} of all that was most repugnant to Jewish feeling. 934 If the account of the circumstances, which brought Joseph and Mariam to Bethlehem, has no basis in fact, but is a legend invented to locate the birth of the Nazarene in the royal City of David, it must be pronounced most clumsily devised. There is absolutely nothing to account for its origination - either from parallel events in the past, or from contemporary expectancy. Why then connect the birth of their Messiah with what was most repugnant to Israel, especially if, as the advocates of the legendary hypothesis contend, it did not occur at a time when any Jewish Census was taken, but ten years previously?

But if it be impossible rationally to account for any legendary origin of the narrative of Joseph and Mariam’s journey to Bethlehem, the historical grounds, on which its accuracy has been impugned, are equally insufficient. They resolve themselves into this: that (beyond the Gospel-narrative) we have no solid evidence that Cyrenius was at that time occupying the needful official position in the East, to order such a registration for Herod to carry out. But even this feeble contention is by no means historically unassailable.935 At any rate, there are two facts, which render any historical mistake by St. Luke on this point extremely difficult to believe.

1.      He was evidently aware of a Census under Cyrenius, ten years later; 936

2.      Whatever rendering of St. Luke ii. 2 may be adopted, it will at least be admitted, that the intercalated sentence about Cyrenius was not necessary for the narrative, and that the writer must have intended thereby emphatically to mark a certain event. But an author would not be likely to call special attention to a fact, of which he had only indistinct knowledge; rather, if it must be mentioned, would he do so in the most indefinite terms. This presumption in favour of St. Luke’s statement is strengthened by the consideration, that such an event as the taxing of Judæa must have been so easily ascertainable by him.


Luke 2:2 (KJV) (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria).


Acts 5:37 (KJV) After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.


We are, however, not left to the presumptive reasoning just set forth. That the Emperor Augustus made registers of the Roman Empire, and of subject and tributary states, is now generally admitted. This registration - for the purpose of future taxation - would also embrace Palestine. Even if no actual order to that effect had been issued during the lifetime of Herod, we can understand that he would deem it most expedient, both on account of his relations to the Emperor, and in view of the probable excitement which a heathen Census would cause in Palestine, to take steps for making a registration, and that rather according to the Jewish than the Roman manner. This Census, then, arranged by Augustus, and taken by Herod in his own manner, was, according to St. Luke, ‘first [really] carried out when Cyrenius was Governor of Syria,’ some years after Herod’s death and when Judæa had become a Roman province.937


We are now prepared to follow the course of the Gospel-narrative.

In consequence of ‘the decree of Cæsar Augustus,’ Herod directed a general registration to be made after the Jewish, rather than the Roman, manner. Practically the two would, indeed, in this instance, be very similar. According to the Roman law, all country-people were to be registered in their ‘own city’ - meaning thereby the town to which the village or place, where they were born, was attached. In so doing, the ‘house and lineage’


·        the nomen the middle part of Ancient Roman names


·        cognomen refers to the third name of a citizen of ancient Rome,



of each were marked.938 According to the Jewish mode of registration, the people would have been;

·        Enrolled according to tribes {Hebrew},

·        Families or clans {Hebrew},

·        The house of their fathers {Hebrew}.


But as the ten tribes had not returned to Palestine this could only take place to a very limited extent, 939 while it would be easy for each to be registered in ‘his own city.’ In the case of Joseph and Mariam, whose descent from David was not only known, but where, for the sake of the unborn Messiah, it was most important that this should be distinctly noted, it was natural that, in accordance with Jewish law, they should have gone to Bethlehem.

Perhaps also, for many reasons which will readily suggest themselves, Joseph and Mariam might be glad to leave Nazareth, and seek, if possible, a home in Bethlehem. Indeed, so strong was this feeling, that it afterwards required special Divine direction to induce Joseph to relinquish this chosen place of residence, and to return into Galilee.940 In these circumstances, Mariam, now the ‘wife’ of Joseph, though standing to him only in the actual relationship of ‘betrothed,’941 would, of course, accompany her husband to Bethlehem. Irrespective of this, every feeling and hope in her must have prompted such a course, and there is no need to discuss whether Roman or Jewish Census-usage required her presence - a question which, if put, would have to be answered in the negative.

The short winter’s day was probably closing in, 942 as the two travellers from Nazareth, bringing with them the few necessaries of a poor Eastern household, neared their journey’s end. If we think of Jesus as the Messiah from heaven, the surroundings of outward poverty, so far from detracting, seem most congruous (harmony) to His Divine character.

Earthly splendour would here seem like tawdry tinsel, and the utmost simplicity like that clothing of the lilies, which far surpassed all the glory of Solomon’s court. But only in the East would the most absolute simplicity be possible, and yet neither it, nor the poverty from which it sprang, necessarily imply even the slightest taint of social inferiority. The way had been long and weary - at the very least, three days’ journey, whatever route had been taken from Galilee. Most probably it would be that so commonly followed, from a desire to avoid Samaria, along the eastern banks of the Jordan, and by the fords of Jericho.943 Although passing through one of the warmest parts of the country, the season of the year must, even in most favourable circumstances, have greatly increased the difficulties of such a journey. A sense of rest and peace must, almost unconsciously, have crept over the travellers when at last they reached the rich fields that surrounded the ancient ‘House of Bread,’ and, passing through the valley which, like an amphitheatre, sweeps up to the twain heights along which Bethlehem stretches (2,704 feet above the sea), ascended through the terraced vineyards and gardens. Winter though it was, the green and silvery foliage of the olive might, even at that season, mingle with the pale pink of the almond - nature’s ‘early waker’944 - and with the darker colouring of the opening peach-buds. The chaste beauty and sweet quiet of the place would recall memories of Boaz, of Jesse, and of David. All the more would such thoughts suggest themselves, from the contrast between the past and the present. For, as the travellers reached the heights of Bethlehem, and, indeed, long before, the most prominent object in view must have been the great castle which Herod had built, and called after his own name. Perched on the highest hill south-east of Bethlehem, it was, at the same time magnificent palace, strongest fortress, and almost courtier-city.945 With a sense of relief the travellers would turn from this, to mark the undulating outlines of the highland wilderness of Judæa, till the horizon was bounded by the mountain-ridges of Tekoa. Through the break of the hills eastward the heavy molten surface of the Sea of Judgement would appear in view; westward wound the road to Hebron; behind them lay the valleys and hills which separated Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and concealed the Holy City.


But for the present such thoughts would give way to the pressing necessity of finding shelter and rest. The little town of Bethlehem was crowded with those who had come from the entire outlying district to register their names. Even if the strangers from far-off Galilee had been personally acquainted with any one in Bethlehem, who could have shown them hospitality, they would have found every house fully occupied. The very inn was filled, and the only available space was, where ordinarily the cattle were stabled.946 Bearing in mind the simple habits of the East, this scarcely implies, what it would in the West; and perhaps the seclusion and privacy from the noisy, chattering crowd, which thronged the khan, would be all the more welcome.

Scanty as these particulars are, even thus much is gathered rather by inference than from the narrative itself. Thus early in this history does the absence of details, which painfully increases as we proceed, remind us, that the Gospels were not intended to furnish a biography of Jesus, nor even the materials for it; but had only this twofold object: that those who read them ‘might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,’ and that believing they ‘might have life through His Name.’947 The Christian heart and imagination, indeed, long to be able to localise the scene of such surpassing importance, and linger with fond reverence over that Cave, which is now covered by ‘the Church of the Nativity.’ It may be - nay, it seems likely - that this, to which the most venerable tradition points, was the sacred spot of the world’s greatest event.948 But certainly we have not. It is better, that it should be so. As to all that passed in the seclusion of that ‘stable’ - the circumstances of the ‘Nativity,’ even its exact time after the arrival of Mary (brief as it must have been) - the Gospel-narrative is silent. This only is told, that then and there the Virgin-Mother ‘brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger.’ Beyond this announcement of the bare fact, Holy Scripture, with indescribable appropriateness and delicacy, draws a veil over that most sacred mystery. Two impressions only are left on the mind: that of utmost earthly humility, in the surrounding circumstances; and that of inward fitness, in the contrast suggested by them. Instinctively, reverently, we feel that it is well it should have been so. It best befits the birth of the Christ - if He be what the New Testament declares Him.

On the other hand, the circumstances just noted afford the strongest indirect evidence of the truth of this narrative. For, if it were the outcome of Jewish imagination, where is the basis for it in contemporary expectation? Would Jewish legend have ever presented its Messiah as born in a stable, to which chance circumstances had consigned His Mother? The whole current of Jewish opinion would run in the contrary direction. The opponents of the authenticity of this narrative are bound to face this. Further, it may safely be asserted, that no Apocryphal or legendary narrative of such a (legendary) event would have been characterised by such scantiness, or rather absence, of details. For, the two essential features, alike of legend and of tradition, are, that they ever seek to surround their heroes with a halo of glory, and that they attempt to supply details, which are otherwise wanting. And in both these respects a more sharply-marked contrast could scarcely be presented, than in the Gospel-narrative.


But as we pass from the sacred gloom of the cave out into the night, its sky all aglow with starry brightness, its loneliness is peopled, and its silence made vocal from heaven. There is nothing now to conceal, but much to reveal, though the manner of it would seem strangely incongruous to Jewish thinking. And yet Jewish tradition may here prove both illustrative and helpful.

That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, 949 was a settled conviction. Equally so was the belief, that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder (a town in the Northern District of Israel), ‘the tower of the flock.’950 This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheep-ground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah 951 leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices, 952 and, accordingly, that the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism, 953 on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible. The same Mishnic passage also leads us to infer, that these flocks lay out all the year round, since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before the Passover - that is, in the month of February, when in Palestine the average rainfall is nearly greatest. 954 Thus, Jewish tradition in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from that Migdal Eder, where shepherds watched the Temple-flocks all the year round. Of the deep symbolic significance of such a coincidence, it is needless to speak.

It was, then, on that ‘wintry night’ 955 that shepherds watched the flocks destined for sacrificial services, in the very place consecrated by tradition as that where the Messiah was to be first revealed. Of a sudden came the long-delayed, unthought-of announcement. Heaven and earth seemed to mingle, as suddenly an Angel stood before their dazzled eyes, while the out-streaming glory of the Lord seemed to enwrap them, as in a mantle of light. 956 Surprise, awe, fear would be hushed into calm and expectancy, as from the Angel they heard, that what they saw boded not judgment, but ushered in to waiting Israel the great joy of those good tidings which he brought: that the long-promised Saviour, Messiah, Lord, was born in the City of David, and that they themselves might go and see, and recognise Him by the humbleness of the circumstances surrounding His Nativity.

It was, as if attendant angels had only waited the signal. As, when the sacrifice was laid on the altar, the Temple-music burst forth in three sections, each marked by the blast of the priests’ silver trumpets, as if each Psalm were to be a Tris-Hagion (hymn); 957 so, when the Herald-Angel had spoken, a multitude of heaven’s host958 stood forth to hymn the good tidings he had brought. What they sang was but the reflex of what had been announced. It told in the language of praise the character, the meaning, the result, of what had taken place. Heaven took up the strain of ‘glory;’ earth echoed it as ‘peace;’ it fell on the ears and hearts of men as ‘good pleasure:’

“Glory to God in the highest -

And upon earth peace -

Among men good pleasure!” 959

Only once before had the words of the Angels’ hymn fallen upon mortal’s ears, when, to Isaiah’s rapt vision, Heaven’s high Temple had opened, and the glory of Jehovah swept its courts, almost breaking down the trembling posts that bore its boundary gates. Now the same glory enwrapt the shepherds on Bethlehem’s plains. Then the Angels’ hymn had heralded the announcement of the Kingdom coming; now that of the King come. Then it had been the Tris-Hagion (hymn) of prophetic anticipation; now that of Evangelic fulfilment.

The hymn had ceased; the light faded out of the sky; and the shepherds were alone. But the Angelic message remained with them; and the sign, which was to guide them to the Infant Christ, lighted their rapid way up the terraced height to where, at the entering of Bethlehem, the lamp swinging over the hostelry directed them to the strangers of the house of David, who had come from Nazareth. Though it seems as if, in the hour of her utmost need, the Virgin, Mother had not been ministered to by loving hands,960 yet what had happened in the stable must soon have become known in the Khan. Perhaps friendly women were still passing to and fro on errands of mercy, when the shepherds reached the ‘stable.’961 There they found, perhaps not what they had expected, but as they had been told. The holy group only consisted of the humble Virgin-Mother, the lowly carpenter of Nazareth, and the Babe Who lay in the manger. What further passed we know not, save that, having seen it for themselves, the shepherds told what had been spoken to them about this Child, to all around 962 - in the ‘stable’ in the fields, probably also in the Temple, to which they would bring their flocks, thereby preparing the minds of a Simeon, of an Anna, and of all them that looked for salvation in Israel.963

And now the hush of wondering expectancy fell once more on all, who heard what was told by the shepherds - this time not only in the hill-country of Judæa, but within the wider circle that embraced Bethlehem and the Holy City. And yet it seemed all so sudden, so strange. That such slender thread, as the feeble throb of an Infant-life, the salvation of the world should hang - and no special care watch over its safety, no better shelter be provided it than a ‘stable,’ no other cradle than a manger! And still it is ever so. On what slender thread has the continued life of the Church often seemed to hang; on what feeble throbbing that of every child of God - with no visible outward means to ward off danger, no home of comfort, no rest of ease. But, ‘Lo, children are Jehovah’s heritage!’ - and: ‘So giveth He to His beloved in his sleep!’ 964


THE BAPTISM OF JESUS: ITS HIGHER MEANING. (St. Matt. iii. 13-17; St. Mark i. 7-11; St. Luke iii. 21-23; St. John i. 32-34.)


Matthew 3:13—17

13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptised of him.

14 But John forbad Him, saying, “I have need to be baptised of thee, and comest thou to me?”

Paraphrase: “It should be You baptising me, and you come to me?”

15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered Him.

16 And Jesus, when He was baptised, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”


Mark 1:7—11

07 And [John] preached, saying, “There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of Whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.”

08 “I indeed have baptised you with water: but he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost.”

09 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptised of John in [the] Jordan.

10 And straightway coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him:”

11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, “Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”


Luke 3:21—23

21 Now when all the people were baptised, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptised, and praying, the heaven was opened,

22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, “Thou art My beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.”

23 And Jesus Himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,


John 1:32—34 

32 And John bare record, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him.”

33 And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptise with water, the same said unto me, “Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptiseth with the Holy Ghost.”

34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.”


The more we think of it, the better do we seem to understand how that ‘Voice crying in the wilderness: Repent! for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,’ awakened echoes throughout the land, and brought from city, village, and hamlet strangest hearers. For once, every distinction was levelled. Pharisee and Sadducee, outcast publican and semi-heathen soldier, met here as on common ground. Their bond of union was the common ‘hope of Israel’ - the only hope that remained: that of ‘the Kingdom.’ The long winter of disappointment had not destroyed, nor the storms of suffering swept away, nor yet could any plant of spurious growth overshadow, what had struck its roots so deep in the soil of Israel’s heart.


That Kingdom had been the last word of the Old Testament.

As the thoughtful Israelite, whether Eastern or Western, 1396 viewed even the central part of his worship in sacrifices, and remembered that his own Scriptures had spoken of them in terms which pointed to something beyond their offering,1397 he must have felt that ‘the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean,’ could only ‘sanctify to the purifying of the flesh;’ that, indeed, the whole body of ceremonial and ritual ordinances ‘could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience.’ They were only ‘the shadow of good things to come;’ of a new’ and ‘better covenant, established upon better promises.’1398 It was otherwise with the thought of the Kingdom. Each successive link in the chain of prophecy bound Israel anew to this hope, and each seemed only more firmly welded than the other. And when the voice of prophecy had ceased, the sweetness of its melody still held the people spell-bound, even when broken in the wild fantasies of Apocalyptic literature. Yet that ‘root of Jesse,’ whence this Kingdom was to spring, was buried deep under-ground, as the remains of ancient Jerusalem is now under the desolations of many generations.

·        Egyptian,

·        Syrian,

·        Greek, 

·        Roman had trodden it under foot;

·        Maccabees had come and gone,


it was not in them;

·        the Herodian kingdom had risen and fallen;

·        Pharisaism, with its learning, had overshadowed thoughts of the priesthood and of prophetism.


but the hope of that Davidic Kingdom, of which there was not a single trace or representative left, was even stronger than before. So closely has it been intertwined with the very life of the nation, that, to all believing Israelites, this hope has through the long night of ages, been like that eternal lamp which burns in the darkness of the Synagogue, in front of the heavy veil that shrines the Sanctuary, which holds and conceals the precious rolls of the Law and the Prophets.


This great expectancy would be strung to utmost tension during the pressure of outward circumstances more hopeless than any hitherto experienced. Witness here the ready credence (mental acceptance as true or real) which impostors found, whose promises and schemes were of the wildest character; witness the repeated attempts at risings, which only despair could have prompted; witness, also, the last terrible war against Rome, and, despite the horrors of its end, the rebellion of Bar-Kokhabh, the false Messiah And now the cry had been suddenly raised: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’ It was heard in the wilderness of Judæa, within a few hours’ distance from Jerusalem. No wonder Pharisee and Sadducee flocked to the spot. How many of them came to inquire, how many remained to be baptised, or how many went away disappointed in their hopes of ‘the Kingdom,’ we know not. 1399 But they would not see anything in the messenger that could have given their expectations a rude shock. His was not a call to armed resistance, but to repentance, such as all knew and felt must precede the Kingdom. The hope which he held out was not of earthly possessions, but of purity.

There was nothing negative or controversial in what he spoke; nothing to excite prejudice or passion. His appearance would command respect, and his character was in accordance with his appearance. Not rich nor yet Pharisaic garb with wide Tsitsith,1400 bound with many-coloured or even priestly girdle, but the old prophet’s poor raiment held in by a leathern girdle. Not a luxurious life, but one of meanest fare.1401 And then, all in the man was true and real. ‘Not a reed shaken by the wind,’ but unbendingly firm in deep and settled conviction; not ambitious nor self-seeking, but most humble in his self-estimate, discarding all claim but that of lowliest service, and pointing away from himself to Him Who was to come, and Whom as yet he did not even know Above all, there was the deepest earnestness, the most utter disregard of man, the most firm belief in what he announced. For himself he sought nothing; for them he had only one absorbing thought: The Kingdom was at hand, the King was coming - let them prepare!


Such entire absorption in his mission, which leaves us in ignorance of even the details of his later activity, must have given force to his message.1402 And still the voice, everywhere proclaiming the same message, travelled upward, along the winding Jordon which cleft the land of promise. It was probably the autumn of the year 779 (a.u.c.), which, it may be noted, was a Sabbatical year.1403 Released from business and agriculture, the multitudes flocked around him as he passed on his Mission. Rapidly the tidings spread from town and village to distant homestead, still swelling the numbers that hastened to the banks of the sacred river. He had now reached what seems to have been the most northern point of his Mission-journey,1404 Beth-Abara (‘the house of passage,’ or ‘of shipping’) - according to the ancient reading, Bethany (‘the house of shipping’) - one of the best known fords across the Jordan into Peræa. 1405 Here he baptised.1406 The ford was little more than twenty miles from Nazareth. But long before John had reached that spot, tidings of his word and work must have come even into the retirement of Jesus’ Home-Life.


It was now, as we take it, the early winter of the year 780.1407

Jesus had waited those months. Although there seems not to have been any personal acquaintance between Jesus and John - and how could there be, when their spheres lay so widely apart? - each must have heard and known of the other. Thirty years of silence weaken most human impressions - or, if they deepen, the enthusiasm that had accompanied them passes away. Yet, when the two met, and perhaps had brief conversation, each bore himself in accordance with his previous history. With John it was deepest, reverent humility - even to the verge of misunderstanding his special Mission, and work of initiation and preparation for the Kingdom. He had heard of Him before by the hearing of the ear, and when now he saw Him, that look of quiet dignity, of the majesty of unsullied purity in the only Unfallen, Unsinning Man, made him forget even the express command of God, which had sent him from his solitude to preach and baptise, and that very sign which had been him by which to recognise the Messiah.14081409 In that Presence it only became to him a question of the more ‘worthy’ to the misunderstanding of the nature of his special calling.


But Jesus, as He had not made haste,

·        So was He not capable of misunderstanding.

·        To Him it was ‘the fulfilling of all righteousness.’



 The heretical Gospels put into the mouth of the Virgin-Mother an invitation to go to that baptism, to which Jesus is supposed to have replied by pointing to His own sinlessness, except it might be on the score of ignorance, in regard to a limitation of knowledge.1410 Objections lie to most of the explanations offered by modern writers.

·        They include a bold denial of the fact of Jesus’ Baptism;

·        the profane suggestion of collusion between John and Jesus;

·         or such suppositions, as that of His personal sinfulness,

·        of His coming as the Representative of a guilty race,

·        or as the bearer of the sins of others,

·        or of acting in solidarity with His people –

·        or else to separate Himself from the sins of Israel;

·        of His surrendering Himself thereby unto death for man;

·        of His purpose to do honour to the baptism of John;

·        or thus to elicit a token of His Messiahship;

·        or to bind Himself to the observance of the Law;

·        or in this manner to commence His Messianic Work;

·        or to consecrate Himself solemnly to it;

·        or, lastly, to receive the spiritual qualification for it.1411


To these and similar views must be added the latest conceit of Renan,1412 who arranges a scene between Jesus, who comes with some disciples, and John, when Jesus is content for a time to grow in the shadow of John, and to submit to a rite which was evidently so generally acknowledged. But the most reverent of these explanations involve a twofold mistake. They represent the Baptism of John as one of repentance, and they imply an ulterior motive in the coming of Christ to the banks of Jordan. But, as already shown, the Baptism of John was in itself only a consecration to, and preparatory initiation for, the new Covenant of the Kingdom. As applied to sinful men it was indeed necessarily a ‘baptism of repentance;’ but not as applied to the sinless Jesus. Had it primarily and always been a baptism of repentance,’ He could not have submitted to it.


Again, and most important of all, we must not seek for any ulterior motive in the coming of Jesus to this Baptism. He had no ulterior motive of any kind: it was an act of simple submissive obedience on the part of the Perfect One - and submissive obedience has no motive beyond itself. It asks no reasons; it cherishes no ulterior purpose. And thus it was ‘the fulfilment of all righteousness.’


·        And it was in perfect harmony with all His previous life. Our difficulty here lies - if we are unbelievers, in thinking simply of the Humanity of the Man of Nazareth;

·        if we are believers, in making abstraction of his Divinity. But thus much, at least, all must concede, that the Gospels always present Him as the God-Man,

·        in an inseparable mystical union of the two natures,

·        and that they present to us the even more mysterious idea of His Self-examination,

·        of the voluntary obscuration of His Divinity,

·        as part of His Humiliation.


Placing ourselves on this standpoint - which is, at any rate, that of the Evangelic narrative - we may arrive at a more correct view of this great event. It seems as if, in the Divine Self-examination, apparently necessarily connected with the perfect human development of Jesus, some corresponding outward event were ever the occasion of a fresh advance in the Messianic consciousness and work. The first event of that kind had been his appearance in the Temple. These two things then stood out vividly before Him - not in the ordinary human, but in the Messianic sense: that the Temple was the House of His Father, and that to be busy about it was His Life-work. With this He returned to Nazareth, and in willing subjection to His Parents fulfilled all righteousness. And still, as He grew in years, in wisdom, and in favour with God and Man, this thought - rather this burning consciousness, was the inmost spring of His Life. What this business especially was, He knew not yet, and waited to learn; the how and the when of His life-consecration, He left unasked and unanswered in the still waiting for Him. And in this also we see the Sinless, the Perfect One.

When tidings of John’s Baptism reached His home, there could be no haste on His part. Even with knowledge of all that concerned John’s relation to Him, there was in the ‘fulfilment of all righteousness’ quiet waiting. The one question with Him was, as He afterwards put it: ‘The Baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?’


Matthew 31: 25The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven, or of men?” And they [Pharisees] reasoned with themselves, saying, “If we shall say, from heaven; He will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?”


That question once answered, there could no longer be any doubt nor hesitation. He went - not for any ulterior purpose, nor from any other motive than that it was of God. He went voluntarily, because it was such - and because ‘it became Him’ in so doing ‘to fulfil all righteousness.’ There is this great difference between His going to that Baptism, and afterwards into the wilderness: in the former case, His act was of a preconceived purpose; in the latter it was not so, but ‘He was driven’ - without previous purpose to that effect - under the constraining power ‘of the Spirit,’ without premeditation and resolve of it; without even knowledge of its object.

·        In the one case He was active,

·        In the other passive;


1.      In the one case He fulfilled righteousness,

2.      in the other His righteousness was tried.


But as, on His first visit to the Temple, this consciousness about His Life-business came to Him in His Father’s House, ripening slowly and fully those long years of quiet submission and growing wisdom and grace at Nazareth, so at His Baptism, with the accompanying descent of the Holy Ghost, His abiding in Him, and the heard testimony from His Father, the knowledge came to Him, and, in and with 1413 that knowledge, the qualification for the business of His Father’s House. In that hour He learned the when, and in part the how, of His Life-business; the latter to be still farther, and from another aspect, seen in the wilderness,


·        Then in His life,

·        His suffering,

·        In His death.


In man the subjective and the objective, alike intellectually and morally, are ever separate; in God they are one. What He is, that He wills. And in the God-Man also we must not separate the subjective and the objective. The consciousness of the when and the how of His Life-business was necessarily accompanied, while He prayed, by the descent, and the abiding in Him, of the Holy Ghost, and by the testifying Voice from heaven.

His inner knowledge was real qualification - the forth-bursting of His Power; and it was inseparably accompanied by outward qualification, in what took place at His Baptism. But the first step to all was His voluntary descent to Jordan, and in it the fulfilling of all righteousness. His previous life had been that of the Perfect Ideal Israelite - believing, unquestioning, and submissive - in preparation for that which, in His thirteenth year, He had learned as its business. The Baptism of Christ was the last act of His private life; and, emerging from its waters in prayer, He learned: when His business was to commence, and how it would be done.


That one outstanding thought, then, ‘I must be about My Father’s business,’ which had been the principle of His Nazareth life, had come to full ripeness when He knew that the cry, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,’ was from God. The first great question was now answered. His Father’s business was the Kingdom of Heaven. It only remained for Him ‘to be about it,’ and in this determination He went to submit to its initiatory rite of Baptism. We have, as we understand it, distinct evidence - even if it were not otherwise necessary to suppose this - that ‘all the people had been baptised,’1414 when Jesus came to John. Alone the two met - probably for the first time in their lives. Over that which passed between them Holy Scripture has laid the veil of reverent silence, save as regards the beginning and the outcome of their meeting, which it was necessary for us to know.

When Jesus came, John knew Him not. And even when He knew Him, that was not enough. Not remembrance of what he had heard and of past transactions, nor the overwhelming power of that spotless Purity and Majesty of willing submission, was sufficient. For so great a witness as that which John was to bear, a present and visible demonstration from heaven was to be given. Not that God sent the Spirit-Dove, or heaven uttered its voice, for the purpose of giving this as a sign to John. These manifestations were necessary in themselves, and, we might say, would have taken place quite irrespective of the Baptist. But, while necessary in themselves, they were also to be a sign to John. And this may perhaps explain why one Gospel (that of St. John) seems to describe the scene as enacted before the Baptist, whilst others (St. Matthew and St. Mark) tell it as if only visible to Jesus.1415


1.      The one bears reference to ‘the record,’

2.      The other to the deeper and absolutely necessary fact which underlie ‘the record.’


And, beyond this, it may help us to perceive at least one aspect of what to man is the miraculous: as in itself the higher Necessary, with casual and secondary manifestation to man.


We can understand how what he knew of Jesus, and what he now saw and heard, must have overwhelmed John with the sense of Christ’s transcendentally higher dignity, and led him to hesitate about, if not to refuse, administering to Him the rite of Baptism.1416


Matthew 3:13—17

13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptised of him.

14 But John forbad Him, saying, “I have need to be baptised of thee, and comest thou to me?”

Paraphrase: “It should be You baptising me, and you come to me?”

15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered Him.

16 And Jesus, when He was baptised, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”


Not because it was ‘the baptism of repentance,’ but because he stood in the presence of Him ‘the latchet of Whose shoes’ he was ‘not worthy to loose.’ Had he not so felt, the narrative would not have been psychologically true; and, had it not been recorded, there would have been serious difficulty to our reception of it. And yet, withal, in so ‘forbidding’ Him, and even suggesting his own baptism by Jesus, John forgot and misunderstood his mission. John himself was never to be baptised; he only held open the door of the new Kingdom; himself entered it not, and he that was least in that Kingdom was greater than he. Such lowliest place on earth seems ever conjoined with greatest work for God.

Yet this misunderstanding and suggestion on the part of John might almost be regarded as a temptation to Christ. Not perhaps, His first, nor yet this His first victory, since the ‘sorrow’ of His Parents about His absence from them when in the Temple must to the absolute submissiveness of Jesus have been a temptation to turn aside from His path, all the more felt in the tenderness of His years, and the inexperience of a first public appearance. He then overcame by the clear consciousness of His Life-business, which could not be contravened by any apparent call of duty, however specious. And He now overcame by falling back upon the simple and clear principle which had brought him to Jordan: ‘It becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.’ Thus, simply putting aside, without argument, the objection of the Baptist, He followed the Hand that pointed Him to the open door of ‘the Kingdom.’


Jesus stepped out of the baptismal waters ‘praying.’1417 One prayer, the only one which He taught His disciples, recurs to our minds.1418 We must here individualise and emphasise in their special application its opening sentences:


‘Our Father Which art in heaven,

hallowed be Thy Name!

Thy Kingdom come!

Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven!


The first thought and the first petition had been the conscious outcome of the Temple-visit, ripened during the long years at Nazareth. The others were now the full expression of His submission to Baptism. He knew His Mission; He had consecrated Himself to it in His Baptism; ‘Father Which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.’ The unlimited petition for the doing of God’s Will on earth with the same absoluteness as in heaven, was His self-consecration: the prayer of His Baptism, as the other was its confession. And the ‘hallowed be Thy Name’ was the eulogy, (a speech or writing in praise) because the ripened and experimental principle of His Life. How this Will, connected with ‘the Kingdom,’ was to be done by Him, and when, He was to learn after His Baptism.

But strange, that the petition which followed those which must have been on the lips of Jesus in that hour should have been the subject of the first temptation or assault by the Enemy; strange also, that the other two temptations should have rolled back the force of the assault upon the two great experiences He had gained, and which formed the burden of the petitions, ‘Thy Kingdom come; Hallowed be Thy Name.’ Was it then so, that all the assaults which Jesus bore only concerned and tested the reality of a past and already attained experience, save those last in the Garden and the Crucifixion, which were ‘sufferings’ by which He ‘was made perfect?’


But, as we have already seen, such inward forth-bursting of Messianic consciousness could not be separated from objective qualification for, and testimony to it. As the prayer of Jesus winged heavenwards, His solemn response to the call of the Kingdom - ‘Here am I;’ ‘Lo, I come to do Thy Will’ - the answer came, which at the same time was also the predicted sign to the Baptist. Heaven seemed cleft, and in bodily shape like a dove, the Holy Ghost descended on1419 Jesus, remaining on him. It was as if, symbolically, in the words of St. Peter,1420 that Baptism had been a new flood, and He Who now emerged from it, the Noah - or rest, and comfort-bringer - Who took into His Ark the dove bearing the olive-branch, indicative of a new life. Here, at these waters, was the Kingdom, into which Jesus had entered in the fulfilment of all righteousness; and from them he emerged as its;


·        Heaven-designated,

·        Heaven-qualified,

·        Heaven-proclaimed King.


As such he had received the fulness of the Spirit for His Messianic Work - a fulness abiding in Him - that out of it we might receive, and grace for grace. As such also the voice from Heaven proclaimed it, to Him and to John: ‘Thou art (‘this is’) My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.’ The ratification of the great Davidic promise, the announcement of the fulfilment of its predictive import in Psalm 2, 1421 was God’s solemn declaration of Jesus as the Messiah, His public proclamation of it, and the beginning of Jesus’ Messianic work. And so the Baptist understood it, when he ‘bare record’ that He was ‘the Son of God.’1422.


Psalm 2 KJV

01 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

02 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His anointed, saying,

03 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

04 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

05 Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure.

06 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.

07 I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto Me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten Thee.

08 Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.

09 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.

10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord with fear, [reverence] and rejoice with trembling.

12 Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.


Quite intelligible as all this is, it is certainly miraculous; not, indeed, in the sense of contravention of the Laws of Nature (illogical as that phrase is), but in that of having nothing analogous (having similar function but a different structure and origin)                                                 in our present knowledge and experience. But would we not have expected the supra-empirical, (The difference between the empirical and supra-empirical domains of heaven and earth) the directly heavenly, to attend such an event - that is, if the narrative itself be true, and Jesus what the Gospels represent Him?

To reject, therefore, the narrative because of its supra-empirical accompaniment seems, after all, a sad inversion of reasoning, and begging the question. But, to go a step further: if there be no reality in the narrative, whence the invention of the legend? It certainly had no basis in contemporary Jewish teaching; and, equally certainly, it would not have spontaneously occurred to Jewish minds. Nowhere in Rabbinic writings do we find any hint of a Baptism of the Messiah, nor of a descent upon Him of the Spirit in the form of a dove. Rather would such views seem, à priori, (relating to or derived by reasoning from self-evident propositions) repugnant to Jewish thinking. An attempt has, however, been made in the direction of identifying two traits in this narrative with Rabbinic notices. The ‘Voice from heaven’ has been represented as the ‘Bath-Qol,’ or ‘Daughter-Voice,’ of which we read in Rabbinic writings, as bringing heaven’s testimony or decision to perplexed or hardly bestead Rabbis. And it has been further asserted, that among the Jews ‘the dove’ was regarded as the emblem of the Spirit. In taking notice of these assertions some warmth of language may be forgiven.


We make bold to maintain that no one, who has impartially examined the matter,1423 could find any real analogy between the so-called Bath-Qol, and the ‘Voice from heaven’ of which record is made in the New Testament. However opinions might differ, on one thing all were agreed: the Bath-Qol had come after the voice of prophecy and the Holy Ghost had ceased in Israel,1424 and, so to speak, had taken, their place.1425

But at the Baptism of Jesus the descent of the Holy Ghost was accompanied by the Voice from Heaven. Even on this ground, therefore, it could not have been the Rabbinic Bath-Qol. But, further, this ‘Daughter-Voice’ was regarded rather as the echo of, than as the Voice of God itself1426 (Toseph. Sanh. xi. 1). The occasions on which this ‘Daughter-Voice’ was supposed to have been heard are so various and sometimes so shocking, both to common and to moral sense, that a comparison with the Gospels is wholly out of the question. And here it also deserves notice that references to this Bath-Qol increase the farther we remove from the age of Christ.1427


We have reserved to the last the consideration of the statement, that among the Jews the Holy Spirit was presented under the symbol of a dove. It is admitted, that there is no support for this idea either in the Old Testament or in the writings of Philo (Lücke, Evang. Joh. i. pp. 425, 426); that, indeed, such animal symbolism of the Divine is foreign to the Old Testament. But all the more confident appeal is made to Rabbinic writings. The suggestion was, apparently, first made by Wetstein.1428 It is dwelt upon with much confidence by Gfrörer1429 and others, as evidence of the mythical origin of the Gospels;1430 it is repeated by Wünsche, and even reproduced by writers who, had they known the real state of matters, would not have lent their authority to it. Of the two passages by which this strange hypothesis is supported, that in the Targum on Cant. ii. 12 may at once be dismissed, as dating considerably after the close of the Talmud. There remains, therefore, only the one passage in the Talmud,1431 which is generally thus quoted: ‘The Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters, like a dove.’1432 That this quotation is incomplete, omitting the most important part, is only a light charge against it. For, if fully made, it would only the more clearly be seen to be inapplicable. The passage (Chag. 15 a) treats of the supposed distance between ‘the upper and the lower waters,’ which is stated to amount to only three fingerbreadths. This is proved by a reference to Gen. i. 2, where the Spirit of God is said to brood over the face of the waters, ‘just as a dove broodeth over her young without touching them.’ It will be noticed, that the comparison is not between the Spirit and the dove, but between the closeness with which a dove broods over her young without touching them, and the supposed proximity of the Spirit to the lower waters without touching them.1433 But, if any doubt could still exist, it would be removed by the fact that in a parallel passage,1434 the expression used is not ‘dove’ but ‘that bird.’ Thus much for this oft-misquoted passage. But we go farther, and assert, that the dove was not the symbol of the Holy Spirit, but that of Israel. As such it is so universally adopted as to have become almost historical.1435 If, therefore, Rabbinic illustration of the descent of the Holy Spirit with the visible appearance of a dove must be sought for, it would lie in the acknowledgment of Jesus as the ideal typical Israelite, the Representative of His People.


The lengthened details, which have been necessary for the exposure of the mythical theory, will not have been without use, if they carry to the mind the conviction that this history had no basis in existing Jewish belief. Its origin cannot, therefore, be rationally accounted for, except by the answer which Jesus, when He came to Jordan, gave to that grand fundamental question: ‘The Baptism of John, whence was it? From Heaven, or of men?’1436


Matthew 31: 25 “The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven, or of men?” And they [Pharisees] reasoned with themselves, saying, “If we shall say, from heaven; He will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?”